Health professionals, scientists agree there is a lot to learn about COVID-19

While it might feel like we’ve been in collective quarantine forever, COVID-19 has only been present in humans for just over six months. COVID-19 is still a very new disease that shares a familial strain with the seasonal flu, but is not flu. Health professionals and scientists agree that there is still a lot to learn about this disease.

On the surface, COVID-19 seems like the seasonal flu, and it does have some similarities. Both have similar symptoms such as fever and body aches, and is transmitted through respiratory droplets through person to person contact, and neither virus is treatable with antibiotics. But COVID-19 is not like the common flu, and in many ways, it’s much worse.

Humans have been living with influenza for over a century, successfully treating and creating vaccines that reduce the effects of the disease. On the other hand, the long-term consequences of COVID-19 are still unclear (e.g., Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome).

Unlike the flu, there is a wider concern of growing reports of symptoms lingering for weeks and months after recovering from the cough and fever. These symptoms include chronic lung damage, crippling fatigue, joint pain and deep bone aches, chest pain, heart palpitations, headaches and dizziness.

Unlike influenza, there are no successful treatments shown to be consistently effective, nor any vaccines developed for COVID-19. Furthermore, we don’t yet understand if those people already recovered from COVID-19 have immunity and, if they do have immunity, how long it will last.

Take for example the mortality rate for COVID-19 compared to the seasonal flu. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Washington, U.S. rates of death among people infected who show symptoms, is 1.3%, significantly higher than seasonal flu that kills typically 0.1% of patients.

This is over 10 times higher than for the seasonal flu currently in circulation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017-2018 flu season (19 weeks), which was particularly bad, 61,099 people in the United States were estimated to have died from the flu.

Between March 21-June 18, 2020, (13 weeks) there are more than 113,000 confirmed deaths in the United States due to COVID-19. Additionally, it is still unclear if COVID-19 has a season like influenza. Warm weather states such as Texas and Florida continue to be hit hard with new cases even as temperatures rise.

Will there be a peak and then subside or will northeast Colorado see an increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the summer? Time will tell.

Another difference is in the severity of cases compared to flu. While both viruses effect the elderly more severely, a case study from Wuhan, China, showed 41% of serious cases occurred among people under the age of 50, compared with 27% among individuals over 65. It just goes to show that serious cases can happen in relatively young people with no prior conditions.

With that in mind, experts say the number of cases requiring hospitalization — and often ventilation to support breathing — could easily overwhelm our health systems.

Without precautions, you are more likely to contract COVID-19 than the common flu. Nationally, disease experts estimate that each COVID-19 sufferer infects between two to three other individuals. That’s a reproduction value up to twice as high as seasonal flu, which typically infects 1.3 new people for each patient.

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